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Ukraine, UN call for extension of Black Sea grain export deal

March 8, 2023 at 4:16 pm

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attend a ceremony to give State Order to the Ukrainian Emergency Service members in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 8, 2023 [Mustafa Çiftçi/Anadolu Agency]

Ukraine’s President and United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called on Wednesday for the extension of a deal with Moscow that has allowed Kyiv to export grain via Black Sea ports during Russia’s invasion, Reuters reports.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, after talks with Guterres in Kyiv that the Black Sea Grain Initiative was “critically necessary” for the world, and the UN Chief underlined its importance to global food security and food prices.

The 120-day deal, initially brokered by the United Nations and Turkiye last July and extended in November, will be renewed on 18 March if no party objects.

Russia’s demands, however, have not yet been met, a Turkish diplomatic source said, adding that Ankara was “working very hard” to ensure the deal continues.

“I want to underscore the critical importance of rolling over the Black Sea Grain Initiative on 18 March and working to create the conditions to enable the greatest possible use of export infrastructure through the Black Sea in line with the objectives of the initiative,” Guterres told reporters in Kyiv.

Russia, which lifted a blockade of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports under the deal last July, has signalled that obstacles to its own agricultural exports need to be removed before it lets the deal continue.

To help convince Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports, a three-year deal was struck last year in which the UN agreed to help facilitate Russian food and fertiliser exports.

Western powers have hit Russia with tough sanctions over its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine more than one year ago. While Russia’s food and fertiliser exports are not subject to sanctions, Moscow says restrictions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries are a “barrier” to such shipments.

“Russia’s concerns, or the rather the difficulties that it is facing, have not been overcome yet. But Turkiye is doing its part for an agreement between all parties,” the Turkish diplomatic source said.

Nuclear concerns 

Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of grains and fertilisers, and this ensures the talks on extending the deal are being closely watched by global markets.

Kyiv has, so far, exported more than 23 million tonnes of mainly corn and wheat under the deal, according to the United Nations. The top primary destinations for shipments have been China, Spain, Turkiye, Italy and the Netherlands.

Zelenskiy said he and Guterres, who was visiting Kyiv for the third time since Russia’s invasion a year ago, also discussed security issues and the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, which is occupied by Russian forces.

Guterres said security around the Zaporizhzhia plant was “vital”, and that the UN was trying to help.

The UN nuclear watchdog has monitors at what is Europe’s largest nuclear power station and has been pressing both sides to establish a demilitarised “safe zone” around it.

READ: Over 15M tons of grain exported from Ukraine